Saturday, January 22, 2022

CiderCon 2022 – Interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt

CiderCon 2022
, the annual trade conference of the American Cider Association will be held in Richmond, Virginia from February 1-4, with excursions scheduled for two days prior. I published a preview and interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt at BevFluence, but thought our readers would be interested in some of her comments on the industry since closing Foggy Ridge Cider (click the link above for the entire interview).  And privately we reminisced about our long-ago video with The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.  

During the conference, I plan on attending these sessions: Top of the Mitten: High Latitude Ciders from Northern MichiganA Cider Among the Faults; and 400 Years of American Alcohol: Cider, History, Cocktails and More. I will also spend most of the after-hours at Bryant's Cider.  Let me know on social media if you plan on attending and we will share a pint of cider. Cheers. 

What have you been doing since the last release of Foggy Ridge ciders? 
Since releasing Foggy Ridge Cider’s Final Call blend in 2018, we have sold our apples to cidermakers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In early 2020 I signed a contract with the University of North Carolina Press to write a general trade book on the history of apples in the South. This book focuses on the stories and history behind the South’s almost 2,000 apple varieties. Through research at University Special Collections, the National Agricultural Library, and interviews with multi-generation apple growers I’ve learned surprising stories about southern apples. The book should be published in 2023. 

What can content creators do better or more in helping to promote the cider industry?
Many in the cider world are proud to say we are a “big tent” industry, and that there is a place for every price point, every method of production, and every quality level for ingredients…from apple juice concentrate to estate-grown cider apples. While this view has merits, it also flattens the discussion. I’d like to see content creators dig deeper into the ingredients and production methods of top-quality cider. Content creators are smart people, “thinking drinkers” if you will, and you should be able to see what is a “marketing message” from producers and what is an authentic practice or value that is carried out in cider-making every day. I see too much content that seems generated by a PR engine for a cider company large enough to hire a PR engine. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Nelson County Route 151: Bryant’s Cidery & Brewery

This Saturday I had an engaging visit to Bryant’s Cidery & Brewery where founder Jerry Thornton was managing the taproom. Over a couple of flights of cider and beer, he provided an overview of his operation and the significant history of the Century Farm property.  In 1865, Maj Waller Massie Boyd returned from the Civil War and was given a tract of land by his father that included an overseer’s log cabin.  Boyd established an orchard called Edgewood which has remained in the same family through six generations for these 155+ years establishing the Century Farm designation. Thornton recalled the reasoning behind the name, "by the early 1900s a granddaughter of Boyd married R.L Bryant whose family farmed nearby. R.L expanded the orchards and built the infrastructure to support the farm".  Historic photos document the family and property's response through aviation in both world wars and to national calamities. 

In establishing the cider house, Thornton refurbished a barn for the tasting room and the overseer’s log cabin for the production facility. The taproom has a very rustic feel with the walls populated with historic photos documenting the family and property's response through aviation in both world wars and to national calamities. He also kept the feeding trough and reclaimed beams and boards & planks from the 1700s.

Bryant's offers a diverse selection of ciders with many infused with fruit or aged in barrel. For the tart sour beer fam in me, I enjoyed the Unicorn Fuel, a brut cider infused with organic rosehips and hibiscus. The Legend (I believe that was the name) was another favorite - a cider infused with coffee and cocoa bits. For the beer, the Roberta's Revenge Stout is solid - far from an Irish stout and more an American stout with chewy malts and dark chocolate on the tail.

However, the cider that immediately captured my attention and proved that Thornton was a serious producer was the brut Brite Good.  This cider is bone dry but packs plenty of tart apple flavor, finishing with refreshing effervescence. I mentioned the possibility of blending with Campari and confirmed the next day that this combination works beautifully.

I'm looking forward to visiting their Richmond taphouse during CiderCon early next month. But for those who are touring Nelson County's Route 151 or staying at Wintergreen, just keep driving south -- over the mountain pass -- to Bryant and the cider house. It's well worth the extra 20 minutes.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Korčula Grk

Grk is an autochthonous Croatian grape variety that grows exclusively on the south Dalmatian island of Korčula. More specifically it is planted in the sandy and very dry soils around the village of Lumbarda at the easternmost tip of the island. Here, the strip of land between two coastlines is very narrow thus the grapes receive plenty of exposure from sunlight and reflection from the sea.

Grk is also an ancient grape, perhaps older than the vines planted by the Greeks who settled in Lumbarda in the third century BC. They named the island Korkyra Melaina (Black Korkyra) for its dense Mediterranean vegetation.  Interestingly Grk translates to Greek in Croatian but DNA analysis does not match any known Greek grape. In the local dialect, Grk refers to "bitter" which resembles the naming of Negroamaro across the Adriatic in Puglia. Since inhabitants of Korčula were seafarers and travelers (Marco Polo (1254-1324) was purportedly born on Korčula) perhaps the concepts in the naming grapes traveled across the Sea. This happened with actual grapevines for Primitivo as the Croatian Tribidrag was transferred to Italy between 200-300 years ago.

The quest to determine the origins of Zinfandel to Primitivo and to eventually Tribidrag & Crljenak Kastelanski also includes Grk. Dr. Carole Meredith analyzed various DNA fingerprints of vines in search of a match for Zinfandel and this led to Plavac Mali being designated an offspring. In addition, her analysis showed that Grk (along with other local varieties Plavina and Vranac) shared genetic markers with Zinfandel. This helps prove the antiquated nature of these grapes. 

Like two other central European grapes, the Hungarian Kéknyelű and Herzegovinian Blatina, Grk has only the female functional parts of the plant. Thus it is not self-pollinating like the vast majority of grapevines and requires a male pollinator. On Lumbarda, its relative Plavac Mali is the primary pollinator, planted in alternative rows as both varieties blossom at the same time and with hopes that the wind will carry the pollen to the appropriate plants. 

Winemaking on Korčula probably started with the Greek settlers and continued with the Romans but its practices were codified in the Statute of Korčula of 1214.  This is the oldest legal code of the Croats and a subsequent version from 1265 has been preserved to the present day.  It codifies both winemaking practices as well as the trading of wine - specifically the prohibition of imports in large quantities. In contemporary times, winemaking has been modernized particularly from young oenologists such as 30-something Igor Radovanović.

After graduating from high school, Radovanović enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, and afterward consulted with several wineries in Smokvica and Čara. This led to working with Testament Winery near Šibenik and Black Island Winery on Korčula and specifically Posip and Grk. On Korčula he created his own small garage winery where he produces several craft wines which are noticeable by their "kružić križić" (circle cross) label. 

One of these wines is the Radovanović Grk 2020 ($39) available in the United States through Croatian Premium Wine Imports and not to be confused with the Serbian winery Radovanovic.  This wine is exceptional and showcases the heavy density and body of Grk wines. It features candied summer fruit, melons, a hint of that Black Korkyra, and surprisingly sufficient acidity. Yes, it stretches the budget but with the small-scale production - well worth the outlay.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Tamjanika (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) from Wines of Illyria

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is an ancient white wine grape that originated in Greece and spread through southern Europe. In Italy, it is known as Muscat Blanc and the source of sparkling Asti and the semi-sparkling Moscato d’Asti. In France, it is one of that country's most widely planted white grape varieties -- particularly in southern France. And in the Balkins - specifically Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- local clones of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains are called Tamjanika

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is named for its small berries and seeds (petits grains) and requires a long growing season as its buds early and ripens relatively late. Because of the small and dense berries, it is susceptible to mildew diseases and requires regular canopy management.  Like other muscat grapes, it produces a very aromatic wine either spicy, floral, and\or fruity.  It's high sugar density and acidity encourage vinification into sparkling and off-dry styles. That being said, in the Balkins, Tamjanika wines are generally drier since the hot Mediterranean climate inhibits the accumulation of sugar and acidity. 

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tamjanika is grown in the Mediterranean climate of Herzegovina near Mostar where agriculture is influenced by the Adriatic Sea (about 20 miles distance), several rivers, and the Herzegovinian mountains. The vines are generally planted in sandy loam soils at 150 to 1,000 feet above sea level. 

For this Wines of Illyria Galerija Vukoje Tamjanika 2019 ($21.99), the grapes are sourced from Vukoje Cellars -- located near the town of Trebinje on the banks of the Trebišnjica river. Trebinje is the southernmost city in Herzegovina and only 20 miles or so from Dubrovnik. Vukoje Cellars farms two estates with the Zasad Polje vineyards being the source of the Tamjanika. These vines are planted along the Trebišnjica riverbed with the dry and rugged country nearby. This wine starts with a floral aroma then transitioning to lime, grapefruit, and melon with some depth and finishes with food-friendly acidity.